Competitor.com » Matt Fitzgerald http://running.competitor.com Your Online Source for Running Mon, 25 May 2015 00:47:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Is Fasting During Workouts Safe? http://running.competitor.com/2014/09/nutrition/is-fasting-during-workouts-safe_14359 http://running.competitor.com/2014/09/nutrition/is-fasting-during-workouts-safe_14359#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 17:34:41 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=14359

How much sports drink is too much during a workout? Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Think twice before you "starve" yourself during and after workouts.

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How much sports drink is too much during a workout? Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Think twice before you “starve” yourself during and after workouts.

Several years ago I used to run on occasion with a female friend who twice qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. One day when I met her at her house for a run I brought over a canister of a sports drink that I was then getting for free and wanted her to try. When she mixed up a bottle in the kitchen I noticed that she used only half the recommended amount of powder. Bemused, I asked why.

“It’s 120 calories per serving,” she said. “I don’t want all that.”

I was surprised. My philosophy on the use of ergogenic aids during workouts had always been to take in as many calories as I needed to maximize my performance. The idea that the calories I consumed during runs or rides might hinder my efforts to get leaner for racing never crossed my mind. But after witnessing my friend’s “workout fasting” I began asking around and learned that many endurance athletes intentionally restrict their calories during training to promote fat loss.

Is there any validity to the fear that taking in sports drinks, gels, and so forth in workouts makes it more difficult to shed excess body fat? Should you, at least in some circumstances, intentionally take in fewer calories than would be required to optimize your workout performance? Let’s look at the science.

Athletes who fast or are tempted to fast during workouts operate on the belief that the calories in ergogenic aides simply supplement the calories eaten during the rest of the day and thereby increase the day’s total calorie intake. But this is not the case. Studies have shown that when athletes consume carbohydrate during exercise, they eat less during the rest of the day. So by using a sports drink or whatever during workouts you get the advantage of better performance without the disadvantage of increased total daily calorie intake.

RELATED: Fuel Up: What The Elites Eat

The other fear that lies behind the choice to restrict carbohydrate intake during workouts is the fear that doing so reduces the amount of fat burned during the workout. This is true. Your body will burn more carbs and less fat in workouts during which you consume carbs than during workouts in which you fast. But this does not mean that using a sports drink during workouts will make it harder for you to shed excess body fat. With respect to losing body fat, what matters is not the type of calories you burn during workouts but how many calories you burn, and you will usually burn more calories in carb-fueled workouts because you will be able to work harder in those workouts.

The reason it doesn’t matter whether you burn primarily fat or carbs during workouts is this: During the hours that follow a workout in which you burn mostly carbs, your body will burn a lot fat as it spares carbs for use in replenishing your depleted muscle glycogen stores. And during the hours that follow a workout in which you burn mostly fat, your body will burn a lot of carbs as it spares fats for use in replenishing your depleted intramuscular triglyceride stores. Research has consistently shown that the most effective workouts for fat loss are high-intensity interval workouts that burn mostly carbs. Why? Because the body burns a ton of fat after such workouts. So don’t worry about the fact that your body will burn less fat during carb-fueled workouts. You’ll come out ahead in the long run.

RELATED: The Runner’s Guide To Eating Out

So does all of this mean you should never intentionally restrict carbohydrate intake during workouts that are long enough for carb consumption to make a difference (roughly one hour and up)? No. There are benefits associated with occasional workout fasting, but they have nothing to do with getting leaner. It so happens that some of the positive physiological adaptations to training are triggered by depletion of the body’s internal carbohydrate stores. When you consume carbs during a workout, your body’s carb stores become less depleted and there’s less stimulus for positive adaptations. In addition, it has been shown that performing longer workouts without taking in carbs increases the body’s fat-burning capacity during exercise, which aids performance in long-distance races.

It’s not necessary to withhold carbs in every long workout to maximize fitness gains and fat-burning capacity, but it’s a good idea to do it occasionally.

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.

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The 3 Best Core Exercises For Runners http://running.competitor.com/2014/08/injury-prevention/the-3-best-core-exercises-for-runners_26101 http://running.competitor.com/2014/08/injury-prevention/the-3-best-core-exercises-for-runners_26101#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 19:45:52 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=26101

Maintaining a strong core is key to staying healthy as a runner. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Forget crunches. They’re not specific enough to running. Do these moves instead.

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Maintaining a strong core is key to staying healthy as a runner. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Forget crunches. They’re not specific enough to running. Do these moves instead.

There are lots of core exercises out there. Doing any of them is better than doing none of them. But some are definitely better for runners than others.

A strong core—that is, strong abdominal and low-back muscles—enhances running performance and may reduce injury risk. The best core exercises for runners are those that mimic the specific ways the core muscles are required to work during running. Here are three moves that do just that.

Supine March

Why it’s good for runners: Core stability begins with the transverse abdominis, a deep abdominal muscle that needs to hold the right amount of tension to prevent excessive movement of the pelvis and lumbar spine during running. The greatest challenge this muscle faces in running is maintaining appropriate tension while the legs move freely and alternately. The Supine March is a great exercise for runners because it administers that very challenge in a controlled way.

How to do it: Lie face up in the floor with both knees sharply bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press your low back into the floor. While concentrating on keeping your low back pressed into the floor, lift your left leg until your left foot comes even with your right knee. Now lower the foot back to the floor. Repeat with the right leg. Continue until you begin to feel an uncomfortable burn in your tummy, up to 20 reps per leg.

RELATED: 12 Exercises To Build Your Running Body

Standing Trunk Rotation with Cable

Why it’s good for runners: One of the important jobs of the core muscles during running is to control rotational forces. Among the biggest energy wasters in running is excessive rotation of the hips, pelvis and/or spine. The Standing Rotation with Cable isolates and intensifies this particular challenge.

How to do it: Stand with your left side facing a cable pulley station with a handle attached at shoulder height. Grasp the handle with both hands and both arms fully extended. Begin with your torso rotated toward the handle and tension in the cable (i.e. the weight stack is slightly elevated from the resting position). Rotate your torso to the right while keeping your arms fully extended and the handle in line with the center of your chest. Keep your eyes focused on the handle as you rotate and your hips locked forward. Return to the start position without allowing the weight stack to come to rest. Complete 12 repetitions, then reverse your position and repeat the exercise.

RELATED: How To Execute A Proper Plank

Suitcase Deadlift

Why it’s good for runners: Running is all about moving against gravity in an upright position. Most core exercises don’t mimic this fundamental element of running. The Suitcase Deadlift does. In particular, it trains the oblique muscles on the sides of the torso to do what they are asked to do during running, which is to keep the torso vertically in line with the legs against resistance. The low back muscles are also challenged in a running-specific way in this exercise.

How to do it: Stand with your arms hanging at your sides and a dumbbell in one hand. Push your hips back, bend the knees, and reach the dumbbell down as close to the floor as you can without rounding your lower back. Now stand up again. Don’t allow your torso to tilt to either side while performing this movement. Complete 10 repetitions, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat the exercise while holding the dumbbell in the opposite hand.

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.

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Hit The Dirt: Why And How To Run Off-Road http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/training/hit-the-dirt-why-and-how-to-run-off-road_31737 http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/training/hit-the-dirt-why-and-how-to-run-off-road_31737#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:00:55 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=31737

It is important to keep your eyes focused roughly six strides ahead, especially on a technical trail, as this will enable you to choose the smoothest and safest way forward. Photo: Kurt Hoy/Competitor

Learn how to make a trail running a part of your training routine.

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It is important to keep your eyes focused roughly six strides ahead, especially on a technical trail, as this will enable you to choose the smoothest and safest way forward. Photo: Kurt Hoy/Competitor

Learn how to make a trail running a part of your training routine.

Many, if not most, elite runners who race on the roads do much of their training on trails. Nike coach Alberto Salazar’s runners, including Galen Rupp and Dathan Ritzenhein, run on the extensive network of trails in and around Portland, Ore. Two-time marathon world record holder Khalid Khannouchi trains in the woods of Queen’s famous Forest Park. The large contingent of Kenyan runners who make their American training base west of Philadelphia trains exclusively off-road there.

Why do elite runners avoid pavement like the plague? Because it’s hard, of course—materially hard and hard on the body. Professional road racers must routinely log more than 100 miles per week to compete against others who are doing the same. That’s a lot of pounding on the old legs. By covering as many of those miles as possible on slightly softer surfaces such as dirt, wood chips and grass, these runners are able to absorb that pounding with a little less wear and tear on the muscles, bones and joints.

Another advantage of running off-road that is less appreciated is that it forces the runner to vary his stride more. Trail running tends to be hillier, to require more directional changes and lateral movement, and to demand more variation in stride length and foot action to avoid obstacles and maintain traction. Some experts in running biomechanics believe that such variations accelerate the process by which the stride becomes more efficient as the brain learns novel ways to engage the muscles.

You can benefit from training off-road as much as the professionals do. Here are some tips for making a smooth transition to the trails.

RELATED: The Everyman: Running On Cobbles

Know Where You’re Going

While it can be fun to blindly explore new running trails, it’s not always wise. If you don’t take some time to research a new trail before you run it for the first time, you might find out the hard way that it is much more challenging than expected, or mazelike and conducive to losing your way, or frequented by snakes or other beasts you don’t like. Your best bet is to do your first run on a new trail with a buddy who is familiar with it.

Choose Your Line

When running on the roads you seldom have to pay much attention where you’re going. For the most part you travel straight forward and you don’t have to worry about your footing or obstacles in your path. But trail running is different. Especially on highly technical trails, it is important to keep your eyes focused roughly six strides ahead, as this will enable you to choose the smoothest and safest way forward.

Wear The Right Shoes

Trail running shoes have become a major subcategory of performance footwear for runners, but the truth is that trail-specific shoes are not necessary for the type of trail running that most runners do. On groomed fire roads and other fairly smooth trails, your regular running shoes will do just fine.

If you do any amount of running on more challenging trails, however, a trail running shoe may be necessary. Trail running shoes have features such as more durable outsoles, aggressive traction and waterproofing that make them better suited to more extreme circumstances.

RELATED: 2014 Trail Running Shoe Buyer’s Guide

Work On Your Proprioception

Acute injuries such as twisted ankles and knees are uncommon in road running, but somewhat more common in trail running. To minimize your risk of suffering such injuries, work on your proprioception (balance and body awareness) at home every other day or so. You can do this by balancing on both feet on a balance board for 4 x 30 seconds or by balancing on one foot on a BOSU ball for 2 x 30 seconds on each foot.

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Nutrition For The Older Runner http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/nutrition/nutrition-for-the-older-runner_40252 http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/nutrition/nutrition-for-the-older-runner_40252#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:45:21 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=40252

A diet that is laden with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables will slow the aging process and its effects on performance. Photo: Scott Draper | Competitor.com

Your body changes through the years. Should your diet?

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A diet that is laden with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables will slow the aging process and its effects on performance. Photo: Scott Draper | Competitor.com

Your body changes through the years. Should your diet?

The percentage of runners over age 45 has increased by more than 30 percent in the past five years. This is due in part to the fact that the sport’s retention rate is growing: the number of people who have been running for 10 years or more has also increased substantially in recent years. Nutrition is critical to running well over the long haul.

Older runners do not have nutritional needs that are substantially different from those of runners in general. What is different about older runners, however, is that they can’t get away with not eating properly they way a younger person might. In other words, the nutrition guidelines that are important for younger runners are even more important for older runners.

A diet that is laden with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables will slow the aging process and its effects on performance. This is true because aging is caused in part by free radical damage to body tissues. As the body ages its antioxidant capacity—that is, its capacity to protect itself from free radicals—decreases, and antioxidant capacity, in turn, is linked to endurance performance. Supplementing a plant-based diet with additional antioxidants may yield further benefits. A study conducted by researchers at UCLA and published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition provided intriguing evidence that antioxidant supplementation may be especially helpful to older endurance athletes.

The subjects of the study were 16 male cyclists between the ages of 50 and 73 years who trained at least four hours per week. Half of the subjects were randomly assigned to take an antioxidant supplement daily for three weeks while the others were given a daily placebo. All of the subjects engaged in their normal training during the intervention and all underwent performance testing at the start of the intervention, again after one week, and one last time after three weeks.

RELATED: Fueling Your Brain For Running

At one week, the subjects receiving the antioxidant supplement exhibited a 16.7 percent increase in anaerobic threshold. This increase was almost completely maintained at three weeks. There was no change in anaerobic threshold in the control group. The supplemented subjects also exhibited an increase in power output at anaerobic threshold while the control subjects did not.

Another issue of concern to older runners is recovery nutrition. Older runners are more susceptible to muscle damage caused by eccentric muscle contractions (muscle contractions wherein the muscle lengthens as it contracts) and are not able to repair this damage as quickly between workouts. You can reduce muscle damage during running by drinking a good sports drink. You can also greatly accelerate muscle tissue repair by consuming a recovery drink containing carbs and protein within 45 minutes of completing a run. But whereas a 20-year-old runner might be able to stray from these guidelines somewhat without noticeable consequences, a 50-year-old runner will almost certainly compromised his or her recovery severely.

Nutrition habits play an important role in maintaining muscle mass and strength. The older a runner gets the less he can take his nutrition habits for granted in this regard. After age 35, we tend to gradually lose muscle mass, mainly because we produce smaller amounts of anabolic hormones such as growth hormone. Adequate protein intake is essential for muscle maintenance. Research has also shown that athletes who practice correct recovery nutrition habits are better able to maintain muscle mass.

RELATED: Iron Level Upkeep For Runners

Proper nutrition alone is not enough. Unless you combine adequate protein intake with exercise, you will not succeed in slowing aging-related muscle atrophy. Running is exercise, of course, and running has been shown to delay and slow muscle loss in older runners. But to really do the job properly you must supplement your running with strength training. Again, younger runners can likely avoid strength training and not lose muscle mass. (For injury prevention, strength training will benefit you no matter what your age.)  But once you pass age 35, strength training becomes truly indispensable for maintaining muscle mass–along with adequate protein intake and correct post-workout nutrition habits.

Our daily energy needs also tend to decrease gradually as we age. This is primarily an effect of a simultaneous decrease in the resting metabolic rate (RMR), which in turn is partly due to muscle loss. One reason most adults gain weight steadily throughout adulthood is that they continue to eat the same amount despite the fact that their RMR is going down. This phenomenon does not occur in runners and other endurance athletes, however. In a study at the University of Colorado, female runners and swimmers aged 50-72 had the same RMR as women aged 21-35, whereas the RMR of sedentary women aged 50-72 was 10 percent lower on average.

So the bottom line is that if you stay in shape throughout your life, the amount you eat should not have to change.

RELATED: Eat Your Way To Recovery

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.

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Finish Your Second (Or Next) Marathon Faster http://running.competitor.com/2014/04/training/finish-your-second-marathon-faster_27424 http://running.competitor.com/2014/04/training/finish-your-second-marathon-faster_27424#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:20:36 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=27424

Part of a runner's natural progression is becoming faster over time. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

You've finished your first marathon. Congratulations! Now what?

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Part of a runner's natural progression is becoming faster over time. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

You’ve finished your first marathon. Congratulations! Now what?

Most people run their first marathon with a goal of finishing. Even Olympian Shalane Flanagan stated her goal as finishing before running her first marathon in New York a few years back. Most first-time marathon finishers soon decide they want to do another one—only this time, the goal will be not just to finish, but to finish faster. Achieving this goal will require that you take your training to the next level. Here are some guidelines on how to do that.

Increase Your Mileage

In order to run a faster marathon, you will most likely need to train a little more than you trained before. Like it or not, there is a very close correlation between running mileage and marathon performance. But when you do increase your running mileage you must do so slowly and cautiously so that your body can adapt incrementally and avoid breakdown. Be patient. Even if you have both the time and the desire to emulate the training patterns of some hardcore Boston qualifier friend, you need to move in that direction step by step over a period of not weeks or months but years. This is the surest way to improve consistently over the long haul.

You can increase your weekly mileage both by increasing the number of workouts you perform each week and by increasing the duration of individual workouts. Each carries its own benefits, so you will want to do both, but again, slowly and cautiously. First work your way toward performing six or seven runs per week, plus supplemental stretching and strengthening. From there, work on increasing the duration of two or three of those runs.

RELATED: 5 Tips For Road Racing Etiquette

Work On Your Speed

Another tried and true means of increasing marathon performance is to regularly perform workouts involving running speeds that are significantly faster than marathon pace. Such workouts increase the body’s capacity to consume oxygen during running, so that you can sustain faster running speeds more comfortably. There are two specific types of workouts that I recommend for speed building: interval runs and tempo runs.

An interval run features relatively short segments of faster running separated by slow “recovery” jogs. For example, after warming up with a mile or two of easy jogging, run a mile at your 10K race pace, or the fastest pace you feel you could sustain for six miles. Jog a quarter-mile and then run another fast mile. After completing a second recovery jog and a third fast mile, cool down with another mile or two of easy running. Repeat the workout a week later, adding a fourth fast mile. Build up to six fast miles over the next few weeks. By the end of this process you will feel much better able to sustain faster running speeds comfortably.

Build Your Own Training Plan

One-size-fits all training plans found in magazines and books and on websites are fine for first-timers, but as you aim higher you need to graduate to more customized training—which means you need to get a coach or learn how to build your own training plans.

A training program should be 12 to 24 weeks in length. It can be shorter (that is, closer to 12 weeks) when your initial fitness level is higher. It should be longer (closer to 24 weeks) when your initial fitness level is lower. The training program should always be close to 24 weeks if you are in search of a true peak performance.

RELATED: Marathon Training Center

Five basic steps are involved in creating a training schedule:

1. Choose a peak race. Your program should end on the day of your next marathon and should be structured so that you achieve a fitness “peak” on this day.

2. Divide the training cycle into phases. A marathon training program should be divided into three phases of roughly equal length. In the base phase, you will focus on building general endurance by performing a gradually increasing volume of low- to moderate-intensity training. In the intensity phase, you will mix in some high-intensity interval workouts in each discipline. In the peak phase, you will continue to do some high-intensity work but the emphasis will shift toward longer intervals that are close to race pace.

3. Set your mileage. Next you should decide how much training (on a miles-per-week basis) is sensible for you at this stage and plot a target mileage for each week of the program. Start with a mileage level that is close to the amount you do currently and increase it a little each week until you reach a reasonable maximum; from there it should hold steady. Be sure to plan a reduced-mileage recovery week every third or fourth week.

4. Plan key workouts. Key workouts are the hardest and most effective workouts you will do each week. These include your longest run and your high-intensity interval workouts. It is a good idea to schedule these sessions well ahead of time to ensure that your training program has a smooth trajectory toward peak fitness.

5. Fill in the gaps. Once your key workouts have been scheduled, round out your training program by scheduling your runs, and possibly also your stretching and strengthening sessions. There’s no need to plan them in detail. Wait until the time for each workout arrives and simply do the workout your body needs and is ready for.

RELATED: Marathon Taper Tips

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.

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Do The Benefits Of Organic Foods Outweigh The Cost? http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/nutrition/is-organic-worth-the-cost_31070 http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/nutrition/is-organic-worth-the-cost_31070#comments Thu, 17 Oct 2013 19:30:06 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=31070

Buying organic is more expensive, but it comes with many health benefits. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

They say you get what you pay for. But how much more do you really get when you buy organic?

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Buying organic is more expensive, but it comes with many health benefits. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

How much more do you really get when you buy organic?

Organic produce costs more to grow than produce grown with non-organic fertilizers and pesticides. Those extra costs are passed along to consumers. For example, the price of regular raw spinach at my local supermarket is $1.49 per pound. The price of organic spinach is $2.49 per pound. Is organic produce worth paying so much more for?

There is no clear answer to this question. Here are the factors to consider in making your own decision about buying organic.

Think Price Per Nutrition, Not Price Per Pound

Numerous studies have found that organic produce is more nutritious than non-organic produce. So while you probably pay more for less food when you buy organic, you might actually pay less for more nutrition when you buy organic. A large study comparing nutrition in organic and non-organic foods found that antioxidant levels were up to 40 percent higher in organic fruits and vegetables than in their non-organic counterparts.

Other studies have found that produce grown with today’s methods contains much lower levels of vitamins and minerals than the same foods contained decades ago. For example, a study from the University of Texas reported sharply reduced levels of six nutrients in vegetables grown in 1999 compared to the levels reported in the same foods back in 1950.

RELATED: Are Organic Foods Really Better For You?

There is evidence of differences in animal foods, as well. The first study mentioned above also found that organic milk contains up to 60 percent more antioxidants and healthy fats than non-organic milk.

A few studies have contradicted such findings, however, and in fact a recent review of the accumulated scientific literature in this area published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that nutrient levels in organic and non-organic produce are basically the same.

But defenders of the nutritional superiority of organic produce note that while a few studies have found equivalent nutrient levels in organic and non-organic produce, no research has ever found higher nutrient levels in non-organic produce. Hence, nobody is arguing that non-organic produce is better.

And Then There’s Pesticides

A second advantage of eating organic is that it will likely reduce your exposure to toxic pesticides. A study by researchers at Emory University, the University of Washington, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found unsafe levels of certain pesticides in 23 elementary school children. When the researchers placed the children on an organic diet for 15 days, the pesticide levels dropped immediately.

Little is known about the long-term consequences of chronic exposure to the low levels of pesticides found in most non-organic produce. It may significantly increase the risk for diseases such as cancer; it may not. Until we know more, each of us must decide for ourselves if eating mostly non-organic produce is a risk worth taking.

RELATED: Heat Things Up With Organic Frozen Foods

A Little Perspective

It should be noted, however, that most Americans do not eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables of either kind, organic or non-organic. In fact, more than two in five Americans eat fewer than two servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The health benefits associated with eating lots of fruits and vegetables are significant and well known and likely to significantly outweigh any negative effects associated with exposure to the pesticides in non-organic produce. In other words, eating five servings of non-organic fruits and vegetables daily is almost certainly healthier than eating two servings of organic fruits and vegetables.

If you are eating enough fruits and vegetables, and you can afford it, know that choosing organic options as often as possible may well be worth the money. But if organic produce is not in your budget, don’t lose sleep over it.

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit www.mattfitzgerald.org.

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A Short Cut To The Long Run http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/training/a-short-cut-to-the-long-run_32317 http://running.competitor.com/2013/10/training/a-short-cut-to-the-long-run_32317#comments Thu, 03 Oct 2013 17:36:39 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=32317

Photo: John Segesta

You can run a good marathon without logging 20-mile training runs.

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Photo: John Segesta

You can run a good marathon without logging 20-mile training runs.

Most running experts agree that it’s impossible to run a successful marathon without completing some long training runs first. But how long is long? American runners typically aim for 20 miles.  Runners on the metric system, however, often peak at 30 kilometers, which is only 18.6 miles. And Keith and Kevin Hanson, coaches of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, design marathon training plans for most of the sub-elite runners they coach that regularly culminate in a mere 16-miler—and by all reports they work quite well.

In short, there is no definitive minimum distance that every runner must cover in training before running a marathon. While few runners have the talent to get away with never running more than 13 miles (the longest distance Grete Waitz ran prior to winning the 1978 New York City Marathon) in their marathon preparation, your longest run might not need to be quite as long as you think.

RELATED: Take Your Long Runs To The Next Level

Why? Because, according to some experts, you can largely duplicate the benefits of doing a handful of long runs (think 16-20 miles) by doing a greater number of moderately long runs (think 10-14 miles), some of them at higher intensities. Your best results, however, might come from doing a mix of conventional long runs and long-run alternatives such as the three described below.

“During a marathon build-up, all runners, regardless of ability level, should assure themselves of being able to comfortably run at least 16 miles,” says Kevin Beck, a Boulder-based running coach and editor of Run Strong (Human Kinetics). “That said, there are a number of ways in which shorter long runs may be particularly beneficial.”

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Workout Of The Week: Anaerobic Training http://running.competitor.com/2013/05/training/anaerobic-training-for-runners_7409 http://running.competitor.com/2013/05/training/anaerobic-training-for-runners_7409#comments Wed, 29 May 2013 20:05:00 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=7409

Adding anaerobic training to your regimen will increase speed and power while keeping you healthy.

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Adding anaerobic training to your regimen will increase speed and power while keeping you healthy.

Some runners have funny ideas about the meaning of the word “anaerobic”. It’s not their fault, though, because even many exercise physiologists harbor an outdated understanding of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. Often I hear athletes talk about “going anaerobic” when their running intensity exceeds the anaerobic or lactate threshold, which is a moderately high but not extremely high intensity—one that most fit individuals can sustain for a full hour. This expression—“going anaerobic”—reflects an incorrect belief that the working muscles get their energy either entirely aerobically or entirely anaerobically, whereas in fact they almost always get their energy from both systems simultaneously, with the balance shifting gradually from aerobic toward anaerobic as exercise intensity increases. And indeed, exercise intensity must increase far above the lactate threshold before the muscles even get a majority of their energy anaerobically. If you were to run as far as you could in two minutes (in other words, as hard as you could for two minutes), your muscles would get about half of their energy aerobically during that effort.

More from Competitor.com–Seven Ways To Improve Speed Without Increasing Mileage

This much is understood by most exercise scientists. But what all too many of these professionals don’t know is that most of what is classified as anaerobic metabolism is actually just incomplete aerobic metabolism. Recent research has shown that roughly 75 percent of the lactate that is produced through the anaerobic breakdown of glucose is further broken down aerobically within the muscles cells to release energy. The rest is shuttled to other organs and tissues, where it is either broken down aerobically to supply energy or converted back into glucose for future aerobic breakdown.

If anaerobic glycolysis is reclassified as incomplete aerobic glycolysis, as it should be, then virtually the only truly anaerobic metabolism that occurs in the muscles is the breakdown of high-energy phosphates. This type of metabolism becomes predominant only at the very highest exercise intensities, such as during 100-meter sprints.

While true anaerobic metabolism has only a tiny place in running, anaerobic fitness—or speed and power—is critical to distance running performance. The average runner thinks of factors such as VO2max, fat-burning capacity and running economy as being the keys to running performance and tends to forget about pure speed. But if you set aside your prejudices and look at the speed of world-class distance runners, you will see that pure speed is at least as important as the other performance keys. Most 2:11 marathoners are capable of running a sub-50-second 400m. Folks, that is flying!

Research confirms the importance of pure speed to distance running performance. A study by Finnish researchers found that 20m sprint times were nearly as powerful a predictor of 5,000m race times as VO2max. Studies by the same group have demonstrated that explosive power training effectively improves distance-running performance.

It may seem strange that anaerobic training enhances distance-running performance when there is virtually no anaerobic component to actual distance racing, but it’s true. The primary reason appears to be that anaerobic training increases the bounciness of the stride, so that the feet come off the ground faster and more forcefully. This improves running economy, because half of the energy that propels forward motion during running is supplied not by the body but by the force of impact, and the less time the feet are in contact with the ground, the less of that free energy is lost.

In short, for runners the point of performing types of training that involve anaerobic metabolism is not to developing anaerobic metabolic capacity but rather to increase the speed and power characteristics of the muscle fibers.

Therefore, true anaerobic efforts deserve a bigger place in your training than they have in your races. There are three specific types of anaerobic training that you should be sure to include in your training regimen: sprints, plyometrics and weightlifting.

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Are You A Stomper? http://running.competitor.com/2012/11/injury-prevention/are-you-a-stomper_15295 http://running.competitor.com/2012/11/injury-prevention/are-you-a-stomper_15295#comments Mon, 26 Nov 2012 19:25:51 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=15295

Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Runners can permanently reduce impact forces through biofeedback.

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Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Runners can permanently reduce impact forces through biofeedback.

Irene Davis of Harvard University is one of the world’s leading pioneers of gait retraining for runners. Gait retraining consists of systematically encouraging specific changes in the strides of runners that correct characteristics associated with elevated injury risk. One such characteristic is an esoteric variable called peak tibial acceleration, which is basically a measurement of how hard the runner lands on the ground with each step. In a study coauthored with Harrison Crowell of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and published in Clinical Biomechanics, Davis used a form of biofeedback to successfully encourage runners to reduce their peak tibial acceleration by half.

All of the ten runners included in the study exhibited higher-than-normal peak tibial acceleration initially. In other words, they were stompers. Davis affixed an accelerometer to the lower leg of each runner to measure tibial acceleration as he or she ran on a treadmill. The information collected by the accelerometer was transmitted to a screen positioned in front of the runners, allowing them to see a simple graphical representation of their impact force. They were instructed to change their stride so that this measurement was reduced by half, bringing it down to within the normal range.

RELATED: Are you committing these form flaws?

All of the runners were able to do this. Importantly, they were not told how to change their strides to reduce impact. They were given the freedom to manage it in whatever way was most comfortable. Over time Davis gradually withdrew the “crutch” of biofeedback until the runners were maintaining their new, lower-impact strides own their own, by feel. Then they were sent out into the world with instructions to continue running in this modified way. After one month they returned to the lab so that Davis could determine whether they had maintained reduced impact. They had.

It is not known why there is such extreme variation in impact forces between individual runners, but there is, and those who, for whatever reason, land especially hard tend to be highly injury prone. Another running biomechanics expert who works with accelerometers, Stephen McGregor at Eastern Michigan University, told me of a case study involving a member of the Eastern Michigan cross country team. This runner was extremely gifted but constantly injured. When McGregor strapped an accelerometer to him, he found out why. The runner’s vertical accelerations (another way of measuring impact force) were off the charts—the highest of any runner McGregor tested. Neither the runner himself nor his coach had had any idea that he landed much harder than all his teammates.

When I learned of this case I got to thinking. “I am highly injury prone. Perhaps I’m a stomper,” I thought. And when I learned about Davis’s work, I got to thinking even more. Perhaps there was something I could do about it. In a phone interview, Davis told me she believed there was a do-it-yourself version of her biofeedback-based method of reducing impact forces that might work just as well: simply listen to the sound of your footstrikes and try to run a lot quieter.

RELATED: Does an increased stride rate equal educed injuries?

I did this for about three weeks. While I found it easy initially to make my footstrikes quieter, I was also quickly able to associate the softer sound of my shoe making contact with pavement (or a treadmill belt, which works even better) with particular kinesthetic sensations that then became my primary cues that I was successfully maintaining my softer stride. Specifically, I felt that I was squatting into my stride a bit more than usual, which produced a noticeable increase in tension in my lower quadriceps and a more active use of my glutes to propel forward motion. More generally and abstractly, I felt as though I was now scooting versus bounding (not that I felt I bounded before, but in contrast to my modified scooting stride that’s how my old stride now feels when I revert to it).

Circumstances also gave me an immediate way to test the likely effect of this change on my injury risk. At the time I made the change I was dealing with a half-healed Achilles tendon injury that restricted both how far and how fast I could run. If I pushed either my distance or speed limit too far, the affected area would either become painful during the run, feel sore the next day or both. Over that 3-weel stretch I didn’t made any attempt to run faster or farther than I was doing before, but since changing my stride I didn’t felt any pain in my Achilles during running and the level of all-day soreness steadily diminished.

It wasn’t all good news. I’m pretty sure my new stride was less efficient. It felt a little harder to run at my accustomed paces. This was only to be expected. Research by Stephen McGregor and other running biomechanics experts strongly suggests that runners automatically and unconsciously develop the stride that is most efficient for them, and that any conscious attempt to modify it will reduce efficiency, at least in the short term. This is the reason it’s important that, in her gait retraining methodology, Davis uses biofeedback to allow runners to find their own way to modify a certain stride characteristic instead of telling them to make isolated and overt changes such as landing on the balls of their feet instead of the heels. While even the biofeedback method is likely to reduce efficiency in most cases, forcing runners to consciously emulate a certain ideal form would certainly reduce efficiency even more.

Overall, though, I think my quads and glutes just needed a little more time to adapt to working more than they had to with my previous stride and my neuromuscular system needed time to practice and refine it. In due time it will probably be just as efficient as my old stride, and I may even have a chance to become fitter than in the past because I won’t break down as often. And I should say that, while I use the phrases “new stride” and “old stride”, it’s not like the change I’ve made is great enough to really justify them. The change feels drastic on the inside but an outside observer would probably have a hard time distinguishing the two.

As in the case of that Eastern Michigan harrier, the invisibility of the stride characteristics that predispose some runners to injury also makes it impossible to determine prospectively who’s in need of gait retraining. The only sure indication is retrospective: you get injured a lot.

How about you, are you a stomper?

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About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.

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Running 101: Stretching For Runners http://running.competitor.com/2012/09/injury-prevention/running-101-stretching_12081 http://running.competitor.com/2012/09/injury-prevention/running-101-stretching_12081#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2012 17:26:07 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=12081

Here’s why and how you should make a little time to work on your flexibility.

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Here’s why and how you should make a little time to work on your flexibility.

The primary perceived benefit of stretching for runners is injury prevention. But in the best recent controlled studies, stretching has not reduced the incidence of injuries to the lower extremities to a statistically significant degree. On the basis of such studies, many exercise physiologists advise runners not to stretch.

The main problem with this advice and the studies upon which it is based is that they come at stretching from the wrong side of injury. Targeted stretching of abnormally tight muscles and tendons has proven to be an extremely effective means of rehabilitating and preventing the recurrence of specific injuries in runners. This is because abnormal tightness in specific muscles and tendons is without question a contributing cause of particular running injuries, and stretching can increase the elasticity of muscles and tendons.

Every day, physical therapists prescribe targeted stretching exercises to rehabilitate and prevent recurrence of five different injuries that are frequently associated with tightness in muscles and tendons. Abnormally tight calves and Achilles tendons contribute to plantar fasciitis, shin splints, Achilles tendinosis, and calf muscle strains. Abnormally tight hamstrings and hip flexors often precipitate strains in these muscles. And an abnormally tight iliotibial band is commonly seen in runners suffering from IT band friction syndrome.

There is no doubt that stretching plays a positive role in the successful rehabilitation of many cases of these injuries, so it only stands to reason that it can also prevent many cases of these same injuries (or at least prevent their recurrence). For this reason, I recommend that you stretch the above-mentioned muscles and tendons daily. There are various methods of stretching to increase muscle elasticity and joint range of motion: active isolated stretching, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, etc. The simplest is gold old-fashioned static stretching. Here’s a basic static stretching routine for runners.

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Sports Science Update: The Functional Movement Screen http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/injury-prevention/sports-science-update-the-functional-movement-screen_42914 http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/injury-prevention/sports-science-update-the-functional-movement-screen_42914#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2011 19:04:51 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=42914

Seven simple moves can be used to assess your injury risk and chart a course toward healthier running.

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Seven simple moves can be used to assess your injury risk and chart a course toward healthier running.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Winter is the perfect time of year for most runners to perform a Functional Movement Screen and start a program of corrective exercises to address weaknesses. Photo: FunctionalMovement.com

The Functional Movement Screen is a tool that was developed by physical therapists Gray Cook and Lee Burton in the 1990s. It is based on the idea that all sports and exercise movements are built on the seven basic movement patterns and that most injuries are caused by an inability to perform these movements correctly. The test consists of seven basic movements, such as a simple forward lunge, that every able-bodied athlete and exerciser ought to be able to perform with good alignment, stability, and range of motion, and without pain.

A straightforward scoring system is used. The test subject gets three points if he can perform a deep squat, hurdle step, lunge, lying leg left, push-up, trunk rotation, or shoulder mobility test without any “compensatory” movements, such as becoming knock-kneed while squatting. Moderate compensatory movements earn two points. If the subject can’t do the movement right at all, he gets one point, and any pain merits a goose egg.

Composite scores from the seven tests accurately predict future injury risk in everyone from grandmothers in group exercise programs to professional athletes. In 2007, a team of physical therapists led by the University of Evansville’s Kyle Kiesel  subjected 46 members of a professional football team to the Functional Movement Screen. They then tracked serious injuries among the players over the course of the ensuing season and discovered that players with a composite score below 14 were 11 times more likely to get hurt.

The Functional Movement Screen received even broader validation recently in a study involving 874 Marine officers. These officers were subjected to a Functional Movement Screen at the start of a physical training program. Injuries were then tracked throughout the program. Finally, injury risk and types of injuries were correlated with Functional Movement Screen scores.

As in the study involving professional football players, this study used a composite score of 14 to distinguish high-risk and low-risk groupings. The average score was 16.6, and only 10 percent of the officers scored below 14. Again, injury risk among those with FMS scores below 14 was significantly greater than for those with scores of 14 or greater. The FMS also accurately predicted the location of injuries. (For example, officers scoring poorly in the shoulder mobility test proved more likely to suffer shoulder injuries.)

In addition to predicting injury risk and type, FMS scores at the start of the training program accurately predicted scores in a standardized test of physical conditioning performed at the end of the training program. Of the officers who achieved scores of 280 points or more out of a possible 300 points, only 6.6 percent had initial FMS scores below 14.

These findings indicate that people who plan to exercise seriously should screen their movements and work on improving their scores. Doing so will enable them to identify and improve faulty movement patterns before these problems can cause injuries and limit progress in a training program involving repetitive movements (as nearly all serious exercise programs do).

As a runner, you need not be as concerned about your shoulder mobility as you are about your ability to lunge fully without compensation or pain. Nevertheless, everything is connected in the human body, so it’s worthwhile to do the full test and work on any limitations you discover, even if they occur above the waist.

Winter is the perfect time of year for most runners to perform a Functional Movement Screen and start a program of corrective exercises (consisting of targeted stretches and strength exercises) to address weaknesses. Without races on the immediate horizon, you have the freedom to reduce your run training to a minimal level while you focus on movement correction and thereby put a stop to practicing “bad habits” in your stride.

Any licensed physical therapist can take you through the FMS and prescribe a program of corrective exercises. Thereafter you may be able to repeat the FMS periodically on your own, using a mirror to spot limitations and compensatory movements. Use these check-ups to keep you body well balanced, minimize your risk of injury, and maximize the results you get from each mile of running.

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Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.

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Matt Fitzgerald’s Marathon Week Nutrition Plan http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/nutrition/matt-fitzgeralds-marathon-week-nutrition-plan_42765 http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/nutrition/matt-fitzgeralds-marathon-week-nutrition-plan_42765#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2011 16:17:21 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=42765

The author is pulling out all stops to give himself every advantage possible heading into the Cal International Marathon on Dec. 4.

The author will soon run a marathon in less-than-perfect shape. He needs all the nutritional help he can get. Here’s what he’s

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The author is pulling out all stops to give himself every advantage possible heading into the Cal International Marathon on Dec. 4.

The author will soon run a marathon in less-than-perfect shape. He needs all the nutritional help he can get. Here’s what he’s doing.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

The author is pulling out all stops to give himself every advantage possible heading into the Cal International Marathon on Dec. 4.

I will run the California International Marathon on December 4. My younger brother Sean is also running it. In fact, I’m running it because he’s running it. Sean is making a bid to break the coveted three-hour barrier for the first time, and I will (try to) pace him through it.

Sean set his current marathon PR of 3:03-something three years ago. That’s a pretty good time for a 6’3” 200-pounder who does not consider himself a “real runner”. But he can do better. He was trying to break three hours in that last marathon, and he probably would have succeeded on a better course. Sean has been carrying a monkey on his back ever since, and I’m almost as eager as he is to see that monkey removed. He’s trained more seriously than ever before and I think he’s ready.

More from Competitor.com: The 48-Hour Pre-Race Countdown

As for me, I’m not so sure I’m in sub-three-hour marathon shape. I’ve run a bunch of marathons as workouts in the 3:02 to 2:54 range, so I know what sort of shape I have to be in to pull it off. When I registered for CIM back in September I was not in terrific shape but knew I had enough time to get where I needed to be. Then I missed two weeks of training with a calf strain. I started running again on October 3, five weeks before race day. That’s pushing it!

The original plan was to treat my pacing duty as a workout. I would skip most of the little things I would normally do to get 100 percent dialed in before a marathon that I was actually racing. Now I have no choice but to treat the marathon as a race and do those little things, many of which are nutritional in nature.

My ideal marathon racing weight is 154 lbs. Currently I weigh 162 lbs. There’s no hope whatsoever of my losing 8 lbs of body fat in 11 days, and I often caution other endurance athletes against pursuing weight loss as a primary goal while simultaneously pursuing peak fitness. Nevertheless, I know that losing a pound or 24 ounces between now and race day could be the difference between my leading Sean across the finish line in 2:59:55 and suffering the humiliation of having Sean drop his “real runner” big brother with a mile or two to go.

Related Content: Top-5 Race Week Tips

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow. I will feast and drink like an emperor. But after that I will put myself on a severe dietary austerity plan. I will drink no alcohol and eat no sweets of any kind. Dairy products will also disappear from my diet for 10 days. I’ll take a break from sauces, dressings, and other sneaky calorie sources as well. And only the leanest protein sources will find their way into my mouth. I will not make any special effort to eat less generally or reduce my consumption of grains, because I need to ensure that my leg muscles and liver are packed with glycogen fuel even as I strive to shed 16 to 24 crucial ounces of flab.

This Saturday I will enjoy my last mug of morning coffee before the marathon. As we all know, caffeine enhances endurance performance by tickling a “pleasure center” in the brain and reducing perception of effort. But it only works in those who are non-caffeine habituated. So I always force myself to endure a weeklong caffeine fast before important races and then I pop two No-Doz pills 30 minutes before the race starts.

I’ve tried various carbohydrate loading protocols over the years but have lately settled on the simplest of them, trusting the research behind it. There is no awful carbohydrate depletion phase to suffer through in this protocol. All you have to do is gobble 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight in a single day within three days of racing. That’s always a fun day of eating, and I’m looking forward to repeating it next Thursday, the day after my last workout of any substance.

One last measure I plan to employ before this race that is quasi-nutritional in nature is swallowing a couple of Tylenol tablets right before the race. A study performed a couple of years ago found that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) improved endurance performance by blocking pain signals. I haven’t tried this before, but as I’ve said, I need all the help I can get.

Wish me—and more importantly, wish Sean—luck!

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Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.

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Inside ZAP Fitness: The Life Of An Aspiring Elite American Runner http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/features/inside-zap-fitness-the-life-of-an-aspiring-elite-american-runner_42522 http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/features/inside-zap-fitness-the-life-of-an-aspiring-elite-american-runner_42522#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 20:20:11 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=42522

Zap Fitness athletes Alissa McKaig and Dave Jankowski go through a training run on a quiet road in Boone, NC. Photo: Gerry Melendez

Hopes and dreams of aspiring Olympic hopefuls are cultivated at ZAP Fitness.

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Zap Fitness athletes Alissa McKaig and Dave Jankowski go through a training run on a quiet road in Boone, NC. Photo: Gerry Melendez

Zap Fitness athletes Alissa McKaig and Dave Jankowski go through a training run on a quiet road in Boone, NC. Photo: Gerry Melendez

This piece first appeared in the September issue of Competitor Magazine.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

The sun rises over Blackberry Valley, a lush fold in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It is a cool Sunday morning at the end of May. At 7:30 young men and women wearing running clothes and shoes begin to filter into a kitchen and dining area. They talk as people do who see each other every day. Bananas, bagels and cold cereal with milk are consumed.

At 8:15 the runners pile into a couple of cars and crackle down a long dirt driveway. Twenty minutes of slow driving along roads that see frequent deer crossings lead them to Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in the town of Blowing Rock, N.C.

Seven runners emerge from the two vehicles. Six are 25 years old. All of them were exceptional collegiate runners, but not among the handful of very best who graduated and secured contracts with running shoe companies. Alissa McKaig, for example, finished 10th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships while at Michigan State—one of three colleges she attended without graduating from any. Chris Clark was a five-time All-American at University of Pennsylvania, a Division II school.

A hybrid SUV pulls into the lot. Out steps head coach of ZAP Fitness, Pete Rea, who is still boyish-looking at age 42. Rea warns the runners that the park will likely be full of horseback riders this morning. “Please slow down and say something nice when you pass them,” he says.

Photo Gallery: A Day In The Life At ZAP Fitness

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Sports Science Update: Did Meb’s Socks Help Him PR? http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/shoes-and-gear/sports-science-update-did-mebs-socks-help-him-pr_41853 http://running.competitor.com/2011/11/shoes-and-gear/sports-science-update-did-mebs-socks-help-him-pr_41853#comments Tue, 08 Nov 2011 18:55:10 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=41853

Did Meb's compression socks help him to a 2-second personal best at the New York City Marathon? Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images/sports.yahoo.com

New study adds little clarity to our understanding of the benefits of compression socks.

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Did Meb's compression socks help him to a 2-second personal best at the New York City Marathon? Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images/sports.yahoo.com

New study adds little clarity to our understanding of the benefits of compression socks.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Did Meb's compression socks help him to a 2-second personal best at the New York City Marathon? Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images/sports.yahoo.com

If you watched live television or online video coverage of the ING New York City Marathon on Sunday, you probably saw the 2009 champion, Meb Keflezighi, sporting a pair of white compression socks that rose to just below his knees. Although compression socks are primarily associated with recovery benefits, Meb obviously wasn’t wearing them during the most important race of the year to recover from the previous day’s shakeout jog. Nor is it likely that he wore them so that he’d have an easier time walking down stairs the next day. Instead, surely, he wore them for the same reason he did everything else that day: to enhance his performance in the race itself.

While Meb managed a sixth-place finish on a day that saw three men break the decade-old course New York City Marathon record, the 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist did set a personal best for the marathon distance–and at 36 years of age, no less. Does Meb have his compression socks to thank for his new PR?

More from Competitor.com: What’s Up With Chris Solinsky’s Socks?

The results of a new study suggest probably not. Conducted by a team of French researchers and published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, the study involved 14 moderately trained athletes. These subjects were asked to perform a running test on two separate occasions. First they sat around for 15 minutes. Then they ran for half an hour at a moderate intensity. Next they recovered from this effort for 15 minutes and then ran to exhaustion at a pace equaling their previously determined maximum aerobic velocity. Finally, they recovered for 30 minutes.

On one occasion the subjects performed this test while wearing compression sleeves covering their lower legs. On the other occasion they just wore regular athletic socks. The researchers were interested in seeing not only whether the subjects would be able to run longer at their maximum aerobic velocity with the compression sleeves, but also whether they would exhibit higher levels of calf muscle tissue oxygenation, which the researchers measured before and after the performance test. Increasing oxygen supply to the working muscles is one proposed mechanism by which compression garments could enhance endurance performance.

Related Content: A Closer Look At The Skechers GOrun

However, in this study, the wearing of compression garments was not associated with improved performance. In fact, the subjects were able to run a few seconds longer, on average, without the compression sleeves than with them, although the difference was not statistically significant. This happened despite the fact that the compression sleeves did increase calf muscle tissue oxygenation before and after the performance test (hence presumably during the test, as well, although it was not possible to take this measurement during the test).

The increase in calf muscle tissue oxygenation was 6.4 percent (on average) before the performance test, and grew to 7.4 percent 20 minutes after the test and all the way to 10.7 percent 30 minutes after the performance test. Since oxygen supply to the muscles aids recovery, the authors of this study suggested that, although no performance benefit was seen, further research should be conducted to determine whether compression garments make a measurable difference in particular recovery parameters.

So it appears that Meb Keflezighi has only his training to credit—or perhaps his new Skechers GOrun racing flats—for his new marathon personal best time of 2:09:13. But if he kept his compression socks on after the race (or put on a clean pair), he just might be having an easier time walking down stairs today.

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Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.

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Sports Science Update: Does “Barefoot” Running Have Legs? http://running.competitor.com/2011/10/injury-prevention/sports-science-update-does-barefoot-running-have-legs_40583 http://running.competitor.com/2011/10/injury-prevention/sports-science-update-does-barefoot-running-have-legs_40583#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2011 17:07:49 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=40583

Focus on lifting the foot as you run in an effort to prevent blistering.

A new scientific survey shows more interest than participation.

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Focus on lifting the foot as you run in an effort to prevent blistering.

A new scientific survey shows more interest than participation.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Very few runners have switched to running on naked feet. But very many, it seems, have switched to running in minimalist footwear.

The May 2009 publication of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run kicked off what we might call a barefoot running revolution. Two and a half years later, what is the state of that revolution? What are its lasting effects?

The most obvious effects are to be seen in the running shoe industry. Very few runners have switched to running on naked feet. But very many, it seems, have switched to running in minimalist footwear. According to a New York Times article published this past summer, sales of barely-there running shoes such as those made by Vibram increased by 283 percent in 2010. Compare that to an 18 percent increase in running shoe sales overall.

More from Competitor.com: The Barefoot Running Injury Epidemic

Carey Rothschild, a physical therapist at the University of Central Florida, recently came at the question of the state of the barefoot running revolution from a different angle. She developed a survey to assess individual interest and participation in barefoot and minimalist running and distributed it electronically to more than 6,000 runners. The results were published in the October 2011 edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

More than 75 percent of respondents “indicated they were at least somewhat interested in running barefoot or in minimalist shoes,” according to Rothschild. More than one in five had tried actual barefoot running and 30 percent had tried running in minimalist footwear. Runners who were male, of younger age, and who considered themselves “elite” (this was Rothschild’s word; I assume she meant “competitive”) were more likely to have given it a go. The most commonly cited reason for trying barefoot or minimalist running was a desire to prevent future injuries. Those who made the experiment were equally likely to have received guidance from friends or from books. And more than 85 percent “indicated they were at least somewhat likely to continue with or to add barefoot or minimalist shod running if provided sufficient instruction.”

Related: Light, Fast & Free: 2011 Racing Flat/Minimalist Running Shoe Review

These results suggest that the barefoot running revolution does have legs. However, there were some contrary indications as well. Only 13 percent of the runners who received Rothschild’s survey filled it out and submitted it. That’s not a bad participation rate. In fact, it’s fairly high, which strengthens my intuition that there was a strong self-selection effect at work in favor of runners who were into barefoot or minimalist running. I suspect that the 87 percent of runners who did not respond to the survey would have filled it out rather differently.

Also unclear from the abstract (I haven’t been able to access the full paper) is the percentage of respondents who were currently running barefoot or in minimalist footwear. The abstract tells us how many had tried it previously. But how many had since gone back to their old shoes? I think we all know runners who have experimented with minimalist footwear, gotten hurt, and retreated to traditional running shoes. I’d be willing to bet that the difference between the percentage of runners who “had previously tried” barefoot and minimalist running and the percentage of runners who were still doing it was fairly substantial.

Another telling statistic from the survey was this: 54 percent of respondents cited fear of getting injured as the primary barrier to running barefoot or in minimalist shoes. I wonder to what degree this fear was informed by common sense and to what degree it was informed by personal familiarity with barefoot forays gone wrong. As the number of barefoot experimenters who tear Achilles tendons, strain calves, fracture calcaneal bones, and mutilate plantar fascia accumulates, fear of injury may prevent more and more runners from trying the same experiment, despite their evident curiosity.

Scientists who administer surveys know that “intent” is seldom to be trusted. Close to 100 percent of adults intend to reduce the amount of debt they carry each year, but more than half usually go in the opposite direction. So while that 85 percent statistic seems to foretell a tidal wave of future barefoot and minimalist runners, the smart money might bet against it.

More from Competitor.com–Baring Your Soles: An Educational Series On Barefoot Running

As a runner who favors relatively minimal shoes and who believes that, before May 2009, a great many runners who would have been better off in minimalist shoes were not wearing them, I am pleased that the barefoot running revolution has dramatically increased the number and variety of minimalist offerings on the shelves of running specialty retails stores. If the revolution goes no further than this, I’ll be satisfied.

****

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a Coach and Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. Find out more at mattfizgerald.org.

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Book Review: Running The Edge http://running.competitor.com/2011/09/book-reviews/book-review-running-the-edge_36460 http://running.competitor.com/2011/09/book-reviews/book-review-running-the-edge_36460#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2011 17:46:04 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=36460 Adam Goucher’s authorial debut (with Tim Catalano) is a surprise and a delight.

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Adam Goucher’s authorial debut (with Tim Catalano) is a surprise and a delight.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Adam Goucher is known for his exceptional intensity and fierce competitiveness as a runner. These characteristics represent the average running fan’s tweet-size understanding of Goucher’s entire personality. But there’s a lot more to Adam Goucher than can be said in 140 characters. Readers of the 2000 Olympian’s new book, Running The Edge, coauthored with Goucher’s former University of Colorado teammate Tim Catalano, will be exposed to a whole different side of the man.

It turns out that Adam Goucher is, in addition to being intense and fierce, also a deeply reflective and introspective person who cares a great deal about his personal development and his effect on other people. He embraces running as much more than a tool for individual achievement and glory, and is a guy who has an earnest desire to help other runners. This is all great for Goucher, but now that he has put his whole self into a book intended to help other runners, it’s even better for us.

Goucher and Catalano share an interest in humanistic psychology, a school of thought that views all human beings as fundamentally good and understands the purpose of life to be to realize that inner goodness as fully as possible. In Running The Edge, which is independently published and only available on www.runtheedge.com, Goucher and Catalano approach running from a humanistic perspective. The book treats the reader not as a runner but as a person who runs.  Other books aim to show runners how to run better. This book shows people who run how to use running to become more fully actualized human beings. The wrinkle is that developing as a whole person through running, the authors argue, is actually the most powerful way to run better.

“Imagine what developing more optimism, determination, focus, and accountability could do for your running,” they write. “By becoming more aware of your own personal set of attributes and by reflecting on how those attributes affect not only your running, but also other important areas of your life, you are given the insight necessary to strengthen and develop what you are like as a runner and as a human being.”

Running The Edge is a quirky book that presents its own tidy little philosophy, which has something of the feel of a mythology. The core concept of this philosophy is that of the distance maven. “Distance mavens use running as a way to better understand themselves,” Goucher and Catalano explain. “With this greater awareness comes the power to improve not only in running but in each of the five life stories [education, career, family, friendships, and passions].” The authors do not present themselves as finished and complete distance mavens. On the contrary, they reveal their faults and missteps on their never-ending journey toward becoming distance mavens with disarming candor, which, perhaps ironically, makes them more trustworthy than they would otherwise be as guides to “running the edge”—the second major concept of their philosophy/mythology—which basically means taking the risk of continuously expecting the best of oneself.

If I’m giving you the impression that Running The Edge reads as a dry philosophy text, allow me to correct that impression now. In fact, it fits squarely in the tradition of the practical self-help book. Its 226 breezy pages are filled with exercises that make it an active experience and demand accountability of the reader—and Goucher and Catalano are big on accountability. The underlying function of these exercises is to foster self-awareness, which the authors see as the skeleton key to growth in all its forms.

If functional philosophy and homework exercises are the first two threads of Running The Edge, the third is story. Goucher and Catalano illustrate their various points with all kinds of stories from their individual and shared pasts that range from heartrending to side-splitting in their effects on the reader. It is through these brief narratives that the reader gets to know Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano best, and to know them in this context is to like and respect them.

It is difficult to predict how this book will be received. Different is risky, and Running The Edge is unlike any running book ever written. There are no training plans or diet tips to be found in its pages. Neither is it a straight narrative about running, like Running With The Buffaloes, the book that made Goucher a hero to so many, or a straight piece of running-themed navel gazing, like George Sheehan’s Running and Being. But I love Running The Edge for its uniqueness and I hope it finds the readership it deserves. Any runner who takes a chance on it will find it to be a delightful read, at the very least. Those who go so far as to do all that the book asks of them may well find it’s the best thing they’ve ever done for their running, and among the better things they’ve done for their whole selves.

[sig:MattFitzgerald]

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Racing Weight: Beware The Weekend Binge http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/racing-weight/racing-weight-beware-the-weekend-binge_35777 http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/racing-weight/racing-weight-beware-the-weekend-binge_35777#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2011 15:36:52 +0000 http://triathlon.competitor.com/2011/08/nutrition/racing-weight-beware-the-weekend-binge_37229 Don't reverse a week’s worth of progress over the weekend.

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Don’t reverse a week’s worth of progress over the weekend.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

Dieters often dread the Monday weigh-in. On any other day they look forward to stepping on the bathroom scale in the morning. But Mondays are different. All too typically, Monday’s number is larger than Friday’s. A week’s worth of progress toward their body weight goal has been reversed over the weekend.

Studies confirm what dieters experience. A 2008 study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that men and women on a one-year weight-loss program lost weight during the workweek but not on weekends because they binged. While they succeeded in losing 8 percent of their body weight on average by the end of the year, it was estimated they would have lost almost twice as much weight if they had eaten consistently seven days a week.

The problem is not that we tend to eat more of the same foods on the weekends. Rather, we indulge in foods and drinks that we don’t consume during the week: buttered popcorn at the movie theater, a couple of cocktails with a heavy restaurant dinner, and so forth.

What makes runners and triathletes different from dieters is that they do a lot of exercise, and typically do the most exercise on Saturday and Sunday. Because they burn the most calories on the weekend, runners and triathletes often assume it’s OK for them to relax their normal dietary standards and eat whatever they feel like having. The catch is that it’s all too easy to overcompensate.

Suppose you normally run for 45 minutes on Wednesdays and 75 minutes on Saturdays. Those extra 30 minutes will burn an extra 300-400 calories, or thereabouts. Now suppose you reward yourself with a bowl of ice cream after lunch and two glasses of wine with dinner. Those indulges will add about 600 calories to your normal intake. Not good.

How can you avoid letting weekends sabotage your effort to attain your optimal racing weight? Two ways.

Be Aware

Weight management is a numbers game. To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than your body burns each day. And to do that, it’s helpful to know how many calories you’re consuming and burning. Next weekend, use online food calorie resources such as Calorieking.com and online calorie burn calculators such as Caloriesperhour.com to determine if you are in fact taking in more calories than you’re burning over the weekend. If you are, make some adjusts to your food choices to put the totals in a more favorable balance.

Spread Out Your Treats

It’s not that you can’t have the occasional treat such as a bowl of ice cream or a glass of wine. You just need to avoid packing them all into two days of the week. Research shows that the most successful weight managers eat most consistently throughout the week. To improve your dietary consistency, follow the one-in-10 rule: Allow one of every 10 foods or beverages you consume to be whatever you want, whether it’s Wednesday or Saturday.

[sig:MattFitzgerald]

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Sports Science Update: Do Strong Hips Prevent Knee Injuries? http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/sports-science-update/sports-science-update-do-strong-hips-prevent-knee-injuries_35645 http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/sports-science-update/sports-science-update-do-strong-hips-prevent-knee-injuries_35645#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2011 16:27:03 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=35645 A new study paints a subtler picture.

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A new study paints a subtler picture.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

One of the first lessons students are taught in sports medicine classes is that the cause of pain in one part of the body may originate in some other part of the body. In 2000, Michael Fredericson at Stanford University suggested that iliotibial pain, a common knee injury in runners, might be caused by weak hip abductors. The study in which Fredericson presented this idea was highly influential, inspiring many other researchers to further investigate the relationship between hip muscle strength and knee injuries in runners over the past decade.

In a 2007 study, researchers found that collegiate female runners with patellofemoral pain, the most common knee injury in runners, were weaker in the hip abductor and hip external rotator muscles on the side of the injured leg than on the other side. These muscles were also weaker than those in uninjured runners. But a more recent study by Belgian researchers reported that differences in hip muscle strength did not predict the likelihood of knee injuries in a pool of initially uninjured runners. This finding suggests that weak hip abductors might be an effect of knee injuries, not a cause.

Related: Strengthen Your Hips To Save Your Knees

Now along comes yet another study in these series, this one conducted by scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Like the Belgian study, this new one featured a prospective design, meaning it looked at injury rates over a period of time in an group of initially uninjured runners. In this case the subjects were high school runners. The researchers measured strength in hip abduction (lifting the leg out to the side), hip adduction (pulling the leg inward toward the body), hip external rotation, and hip internal rotation in a total of 98 runners. They then tracked the incidence of patellofemoral injuries throughout a competitive season. Finally, they looked for differences in the strength measurements of the runners who got injured and those who did not.

Five of the 98 runners developed patellofemoral pain. There were some interesting differences between these runners and those who escaped injury. First, the runners who got injured actually had greater hip abductor strength initially. Also, their hip abductors were significantly stronger than their adductors, whereas in the runners who did not get hurt this difference was smaller. When the researchers looked at the relationship between strength in external and external rotation, they found that runners who did not get hurt exhibited greater strength in external rotation relative to internal rotation than the runners who developed knee pain. These findings suggest that the balance of strength in opposing muscle groups in the hips may be a more important determinant of knee injury risk in runners than the absolute strength in any single muscle group.

For More: New Study About Hip Strength/Knee-Pain Relationship

The Mayo Clinic team also found that the strength of the hip external rotators decreased after the onset of knee pain. This finding confirms the suggestion of the earlier Belgian study that weak hip abductors may be primarily an effect of knee injuries instead of a cause. But the new study also found that hip external rotation decreased after injury. These strength losses may be a matter of central inhibition. In other words, the brain does not allow the muscles to contract with as much force as a way of protecting the injured knee. If this is so, strengthening exercises may not help the injured runner overcome knee pain.

All of this leaves the picture rather cloudy. Should runners strengthen their hip muscles to prevent knee injuries? Should they strengthen their hip muscles once they’ve emerged? If so, how? The total body of research in this area offers no definitive prescriptions. But if we combine the evidence that is available with some common sense, we can make some good choices.

Muscle weakness in itself is rarely the cause of injury. The problem is muscle imbalance. If a certain muscle group becomes much stronger or weaker than the muscles that work in opposition to it, movements become unaligned and damage occurs. Since hip muscle imbalances appear to exist in runners at risk for knee injuries, you should work on strengthening your hip muscles. But you must do so in a balanced manner, with exercises involving both abduction and adduction, and both internal and external rotation.

[sig:MattFitzgerald]

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The Performance-Enchancing Power Of Caffeine http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/nutrition/caffeine-and-the-runner_23463 http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/nutrition/caffeine-and-the-runner_23463#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2011 21:01:39 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=23463

The world's most widely used drug can make you a better runner.

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The world’s most widely used drug can be beneficial for runners.

Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world. Despite the negative connotations of the word drug, however, caffeine is by and large a benign and even beneficial substance for humans.  “Acute caffeine consumption”—the scientific term for drinking a cup of coffee—has been shown to enhance mental alertness and mood state and is also known to boost athletic performance.  “Chronic caffeine consumption”—the scientific term for drinking a cup of coffee every morning—has been associated with a reduced risk for a number of disorders including type 2 diabetes, gallstones, and Parkinson’s disease. Not too shabby.

While moderate caffeine consumption is deemed best, even fairly high levels of regular caffeine use are not associated with any significant health risks. That said, it certainly is possible to consume too much caffeine, and some caffeine-sensitive individuals react poorly to even small amounts of the stimulant. But the bottom line is that caffeine can be boon to the runner before, during, and even after a workout or race. Here’s how:

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The Young Gun: Exclusive Interview With Kilian Jornet http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/interviews/the-young-gun-exclusive-interview-with-kilian-jornet_34667 http://running.competitor.com/2011/08/interviews/the-young-gun-exclusive-interview-with-kilian-jornet_34667#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2011 18:29:00 +0000 http://running.competitor.com/?p=34667 The 23-year-old is taking the ultrarunning world by storm.

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The 23-year-old is taking the ultrarunning world by storm.

Interview by: Matt Fitzgerald

In June, for the first time in its 38-year history, international runners won both the men’s and women’s races at the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run. The men’s winner was a 23-year-old Spaniard named Kilian Jornet, who finished third in last year’s contest. Also a world-class ski mountaineer, the Salomon-sponsored Jornet covered the 100-mile course in 15:34:24, finishing just four minutes ahead of American Mike Wolfe.

We caught up with Jornet after his Western States win and asked the ultrarunning sensation a few questions.

Jornet and his pace en route to victory at the Western States Endurance Run in June. Photo: Emma Garrard

Competitor: Last year you had a rough time at Western States, becoming quite dehydrated and suffering severe muscle cramps. Did you learn anything from the race that helped you win this year?

Kilian Jornet: Last year I learned a lot. When you win a race you don’t learn. When you lose, that’s when you think about changing and learning. Also, running with Anton [Krupicka, who finished second] and Geoff [Roes, the race winner] taught me a lot. I changed my whole race strategy, from equipment to drinking to eating salts.

Mike Wolfe gave you quite a battle this year. What’s it like to be in such a tight competition over such an extreme distance? Is it quite different mentally from competition in a short race?

Mike and Nick [Clark, who took third place] ran a great race. It’s amazing after 160 km to still be so close together! During the race, I knew that on the climbs I was stronger than Mike, so in the plains and going downhill my mind was quiet, knowing that the race would determined on the climbs. Compared to a sprint, the mindset is very different in long races. It gets quiet, the mind serves to hide the pain.

You’ve run a lot of miles for a 23-year-old. Are you ever concerned about breaking down or burning out?

No, because I think you can break mentally when you let motivation get the best of you. Physically, if you remain injury-free, you can last a long time. And if you are tired you can take a short break, or a long one.

You were a top ski mountaineer before you were an ultrarunner, and you still ski all winter. Does this background and alternative sport help you be a better runner?

Yes, mountaineering definitely helps me a lot, first by giving me motivation in the late summer, and also because I have to run in conditions including snow at the end of winter. At the level of injury, running only 6 months a year helps to protect me. Skiing also helps me train for speed and power.

You’re at the top of a sport in which most athletes don’t peak until their mid-30’s. Where do you see yourself in 10 or 12 years?

I’m at the level I am now because I started very early. Within 10 or 12 years it is certain that I will not be at this level. But I will continue to enjoy racing and mountaineering.

[sig:MattFitzgerald]

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